A Comic for All Ages - Mike Birbiglia

mike-birbigliaSome comedians are clean and inherently appeal to a more conservative crowd, while others defy censorship and naturally draw a less sensitive audience, but it is rare to find a comedian who can play to both sides of that spectrum. Mike Birbiglia is one of those rare comedians, offering a unique performance that three generations of the same family could attend together and collectively enjoy. Birbiglia, currently testing out new material at Caroline’s in New York City, continues to develop his blend of stand-up and storytelling, craftily weaving jokes into a compelling narrative that has a beginning, middle and end, punctuated with clever callbacks. He starts right off with a mellow tone and slightly disheveled appearance (that he is prone to comment on) and immediately disarms his audience with self-deprecation, gradually bringing them to his. Unlike many comics, Birbiglia does not give off the sense that he considers himself superior to the masses, but rather openly places himself in the middle of every curve. This is the position he works from, and part of his great appeal. However, consciousness and the ability to articulate those delicate thoughts and humorous observations are an area where he clearly excels. In his more recent material, Birbiglia pulls almost exclusively from recollections of his own life, this time tying his stories together with the image of an Olympic gymnast who fails in her overall performance but manages to successfully stick her landing. Ever the ambassador of awkwardness and self-consciousness, he fills his new set with tales of failed romance, personal defeats, and the trials of youth. The storytelling blend works well for Birbiglia; he seldom reveals that he is setting up for a joke and instead treats the humor as inadvertent discoveries. His vocal work is also subtle and meticulously paced while giving off the impression of nonchalance. His character voices are usually subdued, caught in slow-motion, allowing him to often get laughs just by the way he says something. Ever at ease with his crowds, Birbiglia casually digresses with the audience when grounds for interaction present themselves and is never one to pass up the opportunity for a quick bit of improvisation. There is a tenderness and understanding in Birbiglia’s style, and instead of progressively raising his voice and quickening his pace through his set, he will often soften his tone and stop for contemplative pauses. It is as at these moments when it is clear that he has the audience hooked. It’s hard to believe that this calm approach could work at a comedy club where servers are trying to cram in as many drinks as two hours will allow, but when Birbiglia gets quiet, the audience does too. Miraculously he is able to elicit the same respectful response from club-goers as he did from theater audiences during his Off-Broadway hit Sleepwalk with Me last season, proving once again that he is a master of the lower decibels. If you desire biting political commentary or harsh social criticisms, then Mike Birbiglia may not be your favorite comedian, but it is highly unlikely that someone seeing one of his shows will not laugh or walk away without feeling like they were somehow moved. - C. Jefferson Thom cj_thomMr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.